How the GCX 2021 video game event turned into a literal video game to fight COVID

I don’t go to many big video game events, but the one I will always try to attend is GCX, formerly known as GuardianCon. Now the “Gaming Community Expo,” the event has expanded beyond its Destiny-centric roots to a wider selection of games, though Destiny fans are still its core. And this year, its Rare Drop founders had some big decisions to make after last year’s event, like every event, was called off due to the pandemic.

Although COVID infection rates are dropping sharply in the United States due to the widespread availability of the vaccine and restrictions are lifted, it was impossible to know the timeline for this when planning GCX for 2021, and even now a giant, massive, in-person meetup still doesn’t seem like the best idea.

So, GCX has decided to upgrade to the full Metaverse this year.

Instead of their usual home in Florida, the event has built a virtual space station inside the Unreal Engine where they plan to host thousands of virtual fans to witness a fully digital version of the show. This includes designer meetups, game presentations, artist booths, whatever the show would normally have, but in an entirely virtual space. It costs $ 50 for the weekend, but if you’ve already purchased GCX tickets for the canceled show, you’re covered for both this year and the following year, when he returned to Florida.

I spoke with GCX organizer Kevin Murray about the challenges of an event like this, and his plans for it. Info to consider if you plan to attend (which I will be, from June 17th).

What are the challenges of a fully digital event that does not show up for a physical event? Or what could be easier?

Murray: The biggest challenge has been spending most of the end of last year planning two events. We didn’t know what we were going to do this year, so we decided to plan for both and know that only one was going to come to fruition. Moreover, a digital event is uncharted territory. Rare Drop and the participants have their own interpretations of what an event like this should be, but there is no historical data or idea of ​​the past to compare it to. I guess the easiest part would be if I could sleep in my own bed every night the week of the event (laughs).

To answer a common question, why are you charging $ 50 for a digital event?

We built this whole environment from scratch. In total, this will end up costing more than it takes to produce our normal physical Florida event. About 7 months of development work on top of our normal costs start to add up. Please keep in mind that this is not a Live Zoom event. We built the environment in Unreal Engine 4. This is not your normal Zoom call. Our Marketing Director went to her annual advertising conference via recorded YouTube videos and it cost her $ 299 in sale – the total price was $ 699. We have worked to price our event fairly.

How did you decide to build the GCX space station in Unreal? Who did you work with to build this?

We started looking for a solution for people to come together in a virtual environment in August 2020. We came across the team that we finished working with through mutual knowledge and attended one of the events that ‘they developed. We immediately knew we could take that experience and make it something that lived up to the standard we created for GCX. We messed around in the test environment and described our vision to the team and they executed it beautifully.

How deep is the character creator for the space station avatars? Are they all human or are there other options?

It’s nowhere near as extensive as, say, Cyberpunk or an Elder Scrolls game, but I haven’t yet seen an event during COVID giving their participants a semblance of individuality in this way. You will be able to change clothes, hair color / style and more. Your avatar is human, but we have masks that people can use to change their faces. If you go, be sure to grab the St. Jude cloak. This will be a separate transaction, but all proceeds from this item will be donated to St Jude by the developer. Additionally, one of the premium microtransactions will have one part donated to St. Jude, with the other part going to the development team to offset the costs of the event.

Is there a localized voice chat for this? What will be the main form of communication on the station?

The proximity chat will be the easiest way to communicate while you are in space. There will also be a global chat box that can be used. We had tried working with the developers to create a group chat option that would allow you to invite your friends to a group and just hear that chat, but we didn’t have enough time to finalize it and have chose to prioritize other things.

How do you stop people posing as creators or industry figures in the digital space?

All creators present and whom we have checked through registrations or awareness campaigns will have their username in reserve. The event can also be streamed, so I’m sure there will be plenty of creators streaming their experience.

How does it work if, for example, you go to an artist’s booth, want to see their work and buy something? What does this process look like?

Go up, click on the part and a new browser window will open on their ecommerce site and you can shop right from there.

What is Bungie’s presence at GCX this year? We know they’re still a big part of it, will we have any new games news?

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Bungie had to change its participation from previous years. We’ve worked really hard with them to make both emblems available to people who donate during the marathon or if they can find all seven ghosts on the space station. They also have other goodies. I have no doubt that we will see Bungie again in full force in 2022.

What other partners are you particularly passionate about presenting things to GCX?

The High Score Tees & Kings Coast stands are my 2 favorites this year. The RPG Tavern will host a 3-episode D&D session hosted by Captain RoBear from June 17-19 at 7 p.m. ET each evening. The Tampa Bay Lightning will host the finals of their annual CHEL Challenge live from the Rare Drop Sports Bar. Facebook Gaming offers a variety of different types of booths to showcase different things. Digital Extremes is back with an attractive package for new players to Warframe. The most shocking and exciting announcement for me was that G4 was going to join us this year. You will be able to meet some of their talents at their booth and they will do 2 panels for the main stage.

Is the plan to fully return to normal in Florida for next year’s event? How will it be different from the 2019 show?

We are fully prepared and have already started work on our return to Orlando on June 11-12, 2022. Tickets are already available and there are a few days left to get the 22% off tickets for ’21 & ’22. Room blocks for Rosen Shingle Creek will also be available. We’re also going to tease something very new for the GCX taking place in 2023 this year, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Rare Drop also wanted me to highlight GenXP, the team that built the virtual space station itself. Here’s what they do:

“GenXP is a subsidiary of TurboPlay Corporation, a pioneer in scalable digital market technologies. Based in New Brunswick, Canada, GenXP leverages these technologies to generate personalized virtual experiences for the new [not] normal, and beyond. Through hard work and innovation, we are pushing the boundaries of technological possibilities to shape new realities, creating engaging, social and experiential memories. Our virtual event platform and services allow our clients to engage their audiences, fans, colleagues and clients virtually unlimited. “

So this should be something to see. I can’t wait to hit the virtual space next week and see how they fare. You can buy tickets here.

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Jennifer R. Strohm

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